Chaos Walking is a weird as hell movie. Having sat on a shelf for literally years, even before the pandemic stated, and getting a quick theatrical release in the States, it finally hit VOD in Canada via eOne Films. Surprisingly, its not an unwatchable mess as some of the pre-release buzz stated. It is definitely strange and has a central stylistic hook that can be annoying but oddly compelling. Sometimes it sort of works, and sometimes it really doesn’t. Chaos is a bit of a mess but an interestingly oddball misfire, attempting to do something distinct. It doesn’t exactly succeed but it is unique.
In the future on the distant planet of New Earth lives Todd (Tom Holland) and other men who are afflicted with The Noise, a spraying of their thoughts in purple clouds and visions to anyone nearby. They are the only ones left alive after a great war with the native species killed off all the women. On their planet crash lands Viola (Daisy Ridley), a woman not affected by the noise. This causes much consternation amongst Todd’s village of Prentisstown with Mayor David (Mads Mikkelsen) and the nasty preacher, Aaron (David Oyelowo). The townsfolk chase down the woman but Todd saves her, even though their quiet moments together are incredibly awkward since she can literally see and hear his thoughts. Now they attempt to contact Viola’s people but they may find some deadly truths about what has happened on New Earth.
People’s thoughts blurting out randomly in a blue haze and semi-transparent visions is something one can endure or make the experience exceptionally irritating. A sometimes lazy, cheap trick in fiction is first person real-time narration and the Noise is basically that. It’s easy to understand what is going on in Todd’s head because he literally blasts it on screen every second. The characters often repeat “Quiet your Noise” as a mantra which can also be like the audience telling them to shut the hell up. Sometimes the visuals work, like when Todd is thinking about his dog or his mom and seeing ethereal images of them in his Noise has dramatic impact. There are a few nifty tricks, the judgemental preacher’s noise is often burning and yelling which makes him seem menacing. Oyelowo as the preacher has an exceptionally commanding voice as he delivers pronouncements about judgement and sinners. The movie tries too hard to make him a reprehensible bad guy by having him literally drown a puppy so the audience knows he’s evil.
Holland and Ridley are solid actors who have been the leads of various big franchises, Spider-Man and Star Wars respectively. Here they’re a bit stranded, Holland’s Todd can be annoying but it makes him oddly endearing because the poor schmuck can’t help but spew out his thoughts every moment. Holland spends most of the movie looking miserable but he makes it convincing. Once in a while his random purple thought bursts are good for a laugh, like when Todd kisses Viola and it’s revealed to be a burst of Noise and the real Viola asks “what are you doing?” kind of horrified. Ridley as Viola spends most of the movie looking kind of horrified at the world she has landed on. There are a few small character moments in between them that mostly involve silent glances but they can sell unspoken emotional connection.
There’s a cavalcade of sci-fi ideas sort of wrapped up in here that never quite get a full pay off. Viola is one of the grandchildren of the original descendants on a generation ship that took 60 years to travel from Earth to New Earth but it’s barely relevant. The fact that New Earth is on a separate planet with a hostile native species seems primed to set up a really cool humans vs. spacemen brawl that never happens. There’s a single scene when Todd goes face to face with one of the native creatures and he sort of beats it up a bit and then it runs away, never to be seen again. Like the sci-fi show Firefly, Chaos Walking had a distinct Western vibe with dusty frontier towns and horse transports.
As the Mayor of the town, Mikkelsen is again playing a guy with nefarious history putting on a façade of everything being hunky dory. He’s sort of nice to Todd, complimenting him on his Nose projections, although the Mayor gets nastier as the film goes on. His story that women were killed off by the aliens immediately seems suspicious so the inevitable revelation what was behind it isn’t exactly a shocker. By the end, the Mayor is a big damn exceptionally evil bad guy. They even have the Mayor bump off both of Todd’s adoptive parents to make him even more despicable. He has a sidekick played by Nick Jonas who leers and looks like a jerk in every scene he’s in as, unsurprisingly, Nick Jonas is exceptionally believable leering jerk.
Chaos Walking is sci-fi/Western/psychological mind reading trickery wrapped up in one movie that is definitely different. The Noise is sometimes an interesting stylistic contrivance and sometimes just purple nonsense. At least the actors make the whole thing better than it should be.
Director: Doug Liman
Starring: Tom Holland, Daisy Ridley and Demián Bichir